The South African Army’s Infantry Formation held their annual Memorial Service at Fort Klapperkop outside Pretoria yesterday, where they paid tribute to South African soldiers who lost their lives in wars and peacekeeping operations over the last century.
“Today, our hearts and minds, our ears, our eyes, are on them, fellow South Africans who died in the line of duty,” said Chaplain N C Jack at the ceremony. “We remember and bring them back on centre stage. We remember also, that their bodies were broken; for us, peace, for stability and for a better world. And we also remember that their blood was shed for us and for a better world. And today, we remember them.”
General Officer Commanding (GOC) Infantry Formation, General Lindiye Yam, pointed out that the achievements and personnel of the SANDF were often ignored. He noted that infantry members are the first to arrive in conflict zones and play an important role in protecting civilians and building bridges and other infrastructure.
Yam reminded those present that the most recent loss on active service was 23-year-old Private Vincent Mthuthuzeli van der Walt, who was killed on his first deployment in Sudan in October 2012.
The Defence Force has increased the number of its personnel deployed on peacekeeping operations to about 2 000 as South Africa increases its involvement in regional conflict resolution. The troops have been deployed in three peace-support operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan.
President Zuma authorised 400 soldiers – mostly infanteers – to deploy to the Central African Republic (CAR), officially to assist with capacity-building of the CAR Defence Force. They will also assist CAR with the planning and implementation of the disarmament, demobilisation and re-integration processes. Some commentators have argued the force is mainly designed to keep the country’s president, Francois Bozize, in power.
Members of the South African Corps of Infantry are also heavily involved in Operation Corona, in which they patrol South Africa’s borders to stop poachers, smugglers and illegal immigrants.
Members of regular force units of the SANDF laid wreaths during the memorial ceremony on Sunday, and were joined by foreign military attaches from Romania, The Netherlands, South Korea, India, Lesotho and Canada.
Members of Reserve Force Units, including 3 Parachute Battalion and the Cape Town Highlanders laid wreaths, as did the host veteran organisation, the Infantry Association, the Council of Military Veterans Associations, the South African Legion and other military veterans groups.
The Infantry Association has held memorial ceremonies at Fort Klapperkop since 1986. The South African Defence Force Memorial was unveiled at the Fort in 1979 and includes a statue of a soldier holding an R1 rifle. The individuals who have lost their lives are honoured with an inscription on a number of marble plaques mounted around the statue.